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There is a frightful lack of biblical knowledge among members of the average Independent Baptist church, in my experience. Many pastors have admitted to me that the majority of their people are not serious Bible students.
It is impossible to understand the Bible properly and grow in understanding of it effectively without training in such things as principles of interpretation, Bible history and geography, Bible culture, and theology or Bible doctrine, yet most members of Independent Baptist churches are grossly lacking in such things.
Most are like a church member I talked with recently who told me that his Bible reading is “hit and miss” and that he had no Bible dictionary, concordance, or commentary, had never learned to use such tools, and knew little to nothing about the principles of Bible interpretation. Another church member told me recently that his daily Bible study consists of reading a couple of verses chosen randomly.
It is not uncommon for church members not even to look at their Bibles during the preaching. Few come to the services to obtain serious Bible education and to capture practical truth they can use in their lives and ministries.
In many Independent Baptist churches, people can attend faithfully for years without learning the Bible well. The Sunday School lessons and preaching are biblically shallow, and the people are not taught to study the Bible for themselves.
No wonder so many churches change direction so easily when the pastor changes. They aren’t properly grounded in Scripture. They are dependent on a man rather than the Spirit of God and the Word of God. They are man-centered rather than Christ-centered.
And the problem begins with pastors who are not serious Bible students.
In the Pastoral Epistles, we see that every preacher is to be a serious Bible student. Paul taught Timothy to be nourished up in good doctrine (1 Tim. 4:6), to give attendance to reading and to doctrine (1 Tim. 4:13), to take heed unto doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). He taught Timothy that it is the elder who labors in the word and doctrine who is worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17). Too many pastors want the double honor of this verse without paying the price of laboring in the Word of God.
Paul reminded Timothy that he had been educated among many witnesses and exhorted him to pass this same biblical education along to others (2 Tim. 2:2). He exhorted him to study to show himself approved unto God, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). He taught him to be “apt to teach,” which requires much learning (2 Tim. 2:24). He taught him that the Scripture is for doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16). He taught him to preach God’s Word with doctrine (2 Tim. 4:2).
Paul showed Timothy the example of having a passion for study even when he was in prison and old and knew that he would soon face martyrdom (2 Tim. 4:13)!
Paul taught Timothy that the qualified pastor is a man who has “been taught” so well that he is capable of protecting the congregation from whatever error the devil throws at it (Titus 1:9-16). This requires a lot of teaching and a lot of study.
Christ instructed us not only to preach the gospel to every creature, but also to disciple the converts so thoroughly that we teach them to observe all things whatsoever He has taught us (Mat. 28:19-20). See also Acts 20:27, where Paul taught the whole counsel of God. That refers to the complete canon of Scripture. That is a lot of Bible education. It requires the teaching of history and geography and prophecy and a thousand other things.
Many Independent Baptist preachers are not too far behind the Primitive Baptists described in The Man Who Moved a Mountain, a biography of Virginia preacher Robert Childress. They actually gloried in their ignorance. One preacher shouted, “Praises be to God that I am ignorant. I’d only praise him more if I were ignoranter” (p. 22). Hearing such things as a child, Childress recalled thinking to himself, “Did God hate learning?” (p. 22).
One preacher described the situation at First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, as follows:
“I attended Hyles-Anderson and I noticed very quickly that they had a huge emphasis on ministry (i.e. bus work, winning souls) but they REALLY lacked in the Bible department. I heard a lot of do's and dont's, I heard a lot of ‘Dr Hyles says,’ but I rarely heard anybody explain from the Bible why. Why do we need to be separated, why the CCM churches are wrong, why dress modestly. Hyles people are very anemic when it comes to Bible. I once heard Jack Schaap (before he became pastor) in chapel say, ‘Some of you guys say you need to come back early from your bus route to study your Bible; don't worry about learning your Bible; you are here for the ministry; you can learn your Bible when you graduate from here.’ Bro, they are Biblically ignorant; they are all practical and no doctrine.”
I have found that the most difficult place to sell serious Bible study books and associated materials is at the average Independent Baptist preachers’ meeting. There are exceptions, but I have found this to be the rule.
A pastor friend who has been in the ministry for many decades wrote the following to me in 2014:
“I asked a missionary what books he had read lately that were a blessing, and he replied that all he reads is a magazine on running. I fear that Independent Baptists may be the illiterati of the 20th and 21st centuries. And the present addiction to iPhones and social media only makes it worse. John Nordman, who worked with Hyles years ago at Hyles Anderson, led the Bible college in Brisbane for some years until the pastor’s son did a Schaap on some kids there and the wheels fell off. He sent me their college prospectus one year hoping to get some of our kids, and I wrote him back and asked him why there was not a course on theology. I later found out that Hyles Anderson never allowed theology to be taught because Jack Hyles thought it would turn their students into Calvinists. Some years ago I started asking preachers questions when we sat around talking or when we drove down the road. Questions on what doctrine was especially precious to them at that moment, or what book of the Bible they love the most this week, or what good book they are reading, or which one has helped them grow the most, or what authors are the most challenging to them spiritually, or what they think about this or that verse (and I pick the hardest ones to ask about). If they are driving, I take my Bible and read to them some passage I am meditating on and ask them to explain it to me. Most of them are out of their depth within ten seconds. Some stare at me with open mouth and shake their head. The Presbyterian pastors I know are the most adept at discussing solid Bible doctrine. Most of the Independent Baptist pastors have never read anything deeper than John Rice or Curtis Hutson. We had a missionary here this weekend who tells great stories, but doesn’t know ANY solid Bible doctrine.”
This preacher said further:
“There is abysmal ignorance concerning the doctrine of Christ, concerning the doctrines of justification, sanctification, and glorification. One of our major problems is that expository preaching is not politically correct in fundamental churches. For a pastor to preach through a book of the Bible is a rare thing. Most of the men I know don't do that because it doesn’t draw big crowds and they like fireworks in the pulpit or fairy tales.”
A major reason why so many Independent Baptist churches are biblically shallow is the shallow preaching.
Shallow evangelism and carelessness about membership has produced churches that are mixed multitudes, and shallow preaching has kept the mixed multitudes biblically shallow.
I witnessed this at the largest, most influential Independent Baptist church in its heyday in the 1970s. In my three and a half years at Highland Park Baptist Church I heard the most acclaimed preachers of the Independent Baptist movement, and they were great speakers, great story tellers, great entertainers, great motivators, but for the most part they were shallow Bible preachers. Expository preaching was exceedingly rare.
Jack Hyles was the king of shallow biblical preaching, taking verses out of context and using a text as a pretext. He would read a verse, then say, “Now close your Bibles and listen to me.”
Recently a friend described the sermon of a preacher who was visiting his church: “It was a typical ‘Sword’ sermon. Five points with all comments and no Scripture. There was literally a one verse ‘text’ and then reference to one other verse thru the whole sermon. Else it was just him telling us stuff and telling stories.”
This type of preaching does not build up the people in God’s Word. They remain babies by the definition of Hebrews 5:13-14 in that they are unskillful in the Word. They learn some basics about salvation and Christian living and some other doctrines, and they learn how to be busy doing those things that will grow the congregation numerically, but for the most part they do not grow to become mature saints who really know God and really walk with him and have a strong knowledge of God’s Word. They don’t learn how to interpret Scripture; they don’t learn the meaning of great doctrinal words; they don’t learn how to interpret biblical difficulties; they don’t learn how to understand figures of speech. They don’t learn how to exercise their senses to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:14). They don’t even expect to be taught the Word of God in a serious way. This is evident in congregations that barely look at the Bible during preaching.
Churches that aren’t serious Bible education institutions are building on the sand, and they won’t stand for long in today’s spiritual climate.
Enlarged January 29, 2019
(first published July 21 , 2016
The preceding is excerpted from